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Multiple Personality Notebook

Acer Aspire R7_Ezelmode_edited-1Easily the coolest notebook of the year, Acer’s Aspire R7 has a dual “Ezel” hinge that lets it quickly go between use as a tablet, a stand-up all-in-one system and a touch-screen notebook. The ultimate convertible, the R7 has a 15.6-inch HD touch-screen and full notebook keyboard as well as all the ports and connections you’d expect. Pricing starts at $1,000.

Freebee Friday: Start-Up Menu Redux

Reviver soft aWhat’s the first thing you notice about Windows 8? For most it is that the addition of the pull-out Charms menu has been at the expense of the plain old Start Menu that used to reside in the lower left corner of the screen. Why not have both? That’s exactly what Start Menu Reviver does.

The software is free and installs a replacement icon right where the old Start Menu flag was. The download is only 4.8MB so it’s quick to get and install. Rather than imitating the old Start Menu, Reviver’s software takes it a step further to something that Microsoft software designers wished they had thought of.

BarGetting to your programs is done via the Apps icon in the lower left corner which extends the Start area to the right with a list of every program on the system in alphabetical order. It has the expected on-off switch and search bar, but ReviverSoft extends the idea of the Start Menu with a battery gauge and clock. On the downside, when the Apps section is extended, it can take up about a third of the desktop real estate.

The whole thing has the appearance of the Charms Menu, so it fits right into the new OS. My favorite is the stack of icons on the left that includes everything from Settings and Network to Recent, Tasks and Run. There’re also places for opening the Home screen as well as Internet Explorer and My Computer, An incredibly useful item is the link to the Dashboard for quickly getting to the Control Panel, email, calendar and more.

It’s very easy to add tiles for other items that are frequently used and you want front and center. All you do is drag them from the alphabetical list to an empty tile.

After living with the software for a couple of weeks, the icons work equally well with a mouse or a touchscreen. Every Windows 8 system should have Start Menu Reviver not because of some nostalgic view of software, but because it streamlines getting to your software.

All-Around Protection

LiveSafe_MISWith PCs, Macs and tablets of all description creeping into the school, it makes sense to protect them all in one place. That place just might be McAfee’s LiveSafe software. An online system, LiveSafe works with an unlimited number and variety of systems, and only excludes Chromebooks and Windows Phones. The system provides. In addition to the expected virus, spyware and phishing protection, LiveSafe has a 2-way firewall, identity protection and content controls. It can even be set up to recognize your face or voice. The service costs $20 for the first year and $79 per year after that.

 

Slate Face-Off

The_New_Windows_8_Consumer_Preview_Start_Screen__PageIf you think that only Apple and Android have school-ready tablets, think again. Microsoft’s Windows 8 not only works well with the latest slate designs, but it offers the unparalleled advantage of allowing schools to continue to use their favorite programs without having to spend a penny on new software.

Two of the most recent Win 8 school slates are Acer’s Iconia W700P and Dell’s Latitude 10. They both use the latest software, have touch screens and were designed to be used on the desktop and in the hand. After that, they differ widely.

For instance, the Latitude 10 has a 10.1-inch screen and starts at $499 but gets expensive when you add in all the accessories needed. By contrast, the W700P has a larger 11.6-inch display and comes with everything you’ll need to use it to teach and learn for $1,050.

When you add together all that’s needed, the price tags are closer than you might think.

Acer Iconia W700P

W700p aWith its matte silver edging and long narrow format, Acer’s Iconia W700P presents a more formal look for school slates. It also raises the bar on cost but is as close to a complete teaching tool as exists.

The slate features a large 11.6-inch touch screen that can display full 1,920 by 1,080 HD resolution, making it just as good for watching video as viewing digital images. It outdoes the Latitude 10 in size and resolution, offering more than 25-percent more workspace. It, however, wasn’t as bright as the Latitude 10’s display.

Its long, narrow screen is just as good for working through long essays as it is for scroll through interminable Web pages. The display is sensitive to 10 independent inputs compared to the Latitude 10’s five finger input. It works well with gestures and responded precisely to an off-the-shelf stylus. The W700P comes with a well-designed stylus that actually looks and feels like a real pen.

Its display is made of super-tough Gorilla Glass and around its edge there are buttons to turn it on, adjust the volume and lock the screen’s orientation. There’s also a Windows Home key.

The W700P leads the Latitude 10 in size and weight, and that’s not such a good thing. It weighs in at 2.1-pounds and measures 0.5- by 11.6- by 7.5-inches. That’s more than 40 percent larger and a third heavier than the Latitude 10. Overall, it feels a little big and heavy for small hands, but can be a great tool for teachers and high-school students.

Inside is a high-performance computer that will put many notebook and desktop PCs at school to shame. It’s all built around a Core i5 3317U processor that has two cores and a speed of 1.7GHz. With Intel’s TurboBoost technology, it can run as fast as 2.6GHz if needed. The system comes with 4GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of solid state flash storage. Like the Latitude 10, the W700P has a Trusted Platform Module for airtight remote access.

With two cameras – a high resolution one in the front and a 1,280 by 720 in the back – the WD700P can be used for video conferences with parents or making classroom movies. The system has Dolby Home Audio and a pair of speakers on the bottom of the slate.

While it lacks a VGA port, the W700P makes up for it with a micro-HDMI connection; the system includes an adapter for a VGA projector. It worked well with a Mitsubishi WD390U-EST projector as well as USB and wireless keyboards. The W700P, though, lacks WiDi for wirelessly sending images and audio to a display.

W700p bThe best part about the W700P is that the $1,050 package I looked at comes with everything you’ll need to teach and learn, including the stylus, adapters and a nice dock that has can be set up vertically or horizontally. It has 3 USB 3.0 ports and can be a little tricky getting the slate in and out. Once you learn to slide it horizontally, into and out of the dock it gets much easier.

The system also includes a padded gray case that’s covered with in soft faux suede. The slate snaps in and there’s a Bluetooth keyboard that can make typing a grade report much easier than using the W700P’s on-screen keyboard. The whole package does a good imitation of a notebook and weighs 3.4-pounds.

The system’s performance was exceptional and better than most school notebooks. It scored a 1,605.0 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, 7-times the score of the Latitude 10. Its 4,850 milli-amp hour battery was able to power the machine for a reasonable 5 hours and 30 minutes, of continuous use. This should translate into a full day of use, but is four hours short of the Latitude 10’s incredible battery life. Unfortunately, like the Latitude 10, the battery can’t be changed.

While others skimp on the expected items, Acer excels at them, providing more value. In addition to Windows 8 Pro, the W700P includes a 2-year warranty. If you add that plus the case, configuration differences and the stylus together, the two systems are actually very close in price.

The bonus is the W700P’s great large screen and ability to fit right into the classroom.

  W700pc

Acer Iconia W700P

Price: $1,050

+ Big high-resolution screen

+ Top performance

+ TPM

+ Comes with cradle, cover, stylus and keyboard

+ 10 finger input

 

- High price

- Heavy

 

Dell Latitude 10

Lat 10 bAt roughly the size and weight of an iPad, Dell’s Latitude 10 squeezes a lot of PC into a thin tablet, but compared to the Iconia W700P it cuts too many configuration corners and gets expensive quickly when you add in the needed accessories.

At 1.4-pounds, it is much lighter than the W700P and it is only 0.4-inches thick. The system takes up 10.7- by 7.0-inches of precious desktop space, making it good for side-by-side work. The Latitude 10 is smaller in every dimension; it also has a 10.1-inch display versus the 11.6-inch screen on the W700P.

On the other hand, the Latitude 10 has comfortable cut-outs for hands and its rubberized coating feels better than the W700P’s cold metallic surface. In all, the system can more comfortably be handled and used by smaller children.

At 10.1-inches, the Latitude 10’s screen is not only smaller than the W700P’s, but is not made of Gorilla Glass. Its 1,366- by 768-resolution is also second best compared to the W700P’s HD display. It can only handle up to five separate finger inputs, but this should be plenty for most classroom uses. It worked with gestures and an off-the-shelf stylus; the tablet didn’t come with a pen.

Below the screen is a handy Windows Home button. Around its edge there are buttons for turning the system on and off as well as adjusting the volume and locking the screen orientation.

Its components are a step or two down from the W700P’s set up. Powered by Intel’s dual-core Atom Z2760 1.8GHz processor, the system lacks compatibility with DirectX 10 software. The system comes with 2GB of RAM and a 64GB solid state storage system, all less than the W700P provides. It does have security-conscious TPM hardware, though.

There’s also a pair of cameras on the Latitude 10: a 2-megapixel device up front for video chats as well as an 8-megapixel camera in the back for taking pictures and videos. It has a pair of speakers but the Latitude 10 lacks the W700P’s Dolby audio enhancements.

Lat 10 aThe slate itself has an SD card slot as well as a USB 3.0 port and an audio jack. It can connect with 802.11n WiFi networking and Bluetooth built-in. The system worked with a USB and wireless keyboard. On the downside, the slate on its own can’t be used to project or connect to a monitor.

That’s where Dell’s $120 cradle comes in. More desk-centric than the W700P’s dick, it securely holds the system horizontally, but not vertically. It has four USB ports, one of which is conveniently up front for instant-access items like a memory key or charging a phone. There’s also HDMI, audio and LAN connections. Like the W700P, it lacks WiDi for wirelessly sending images and audio to a projector. The system I looked at included a wireless mouse and keyboard set that adds $40 to the price tag.

To no surprise, the Latitude 10’s performance was a distant second compared to the W700P, a direct result of using Intel’s low-power Atom processor and 2GB of RAM. It scored a dismal 262.8 and couldn’t complete the benchmark’s DirectX 10 testing.

On the other hand, it’s a long distance runner, with the Latitude 10’s 4,050 milliamp hour battery able to go for 9 hours and 32 minutes on a charge. That’s four hours longer than the W700P’s battery life. In fact, it ran so long that it might be able to handle several days of use in the classroom without a recharge.

Right-sized for small hands, the Latitude 10 falls short on performance. Plus, if you add up all the extras that the W700P provides (like the case, dock, stylus,  more RAM, larger storage, longer warranty and Windows Pro), the Latitude 10 costs about $950, putting them roughly on a par with each other.

Lat 10 c

Dell Latitude 10

Price: $579

+ Exceptional battery life

+ Small and thin

+ Inexpensive tablet

+ TPM

+ Dock

 

- All accessories are extra

- Low performance

- 2GB of RAM

- 5 finger input

Progress, Front and Center

Bb retention center bEver have gifted or lagging students fall into the cracks? Blackboard’s Retention Center lets teachers and administrators track every student’s progress in an easy to view format. The new software is part of the company’s Learning Management System and it puts any at-risk student in your face with up-to-date performance, missed deadlines and poor grades.

The Whole Package

Main-ActivInspire-Screen-Shot-3Hardware is nothing without good software and Epson now sells Promethan ActivInspire educational software with its BrightLink projectors. The package costs $299 with new projectors or for existing customers.

Taking Control of Office 365

Office 365 Mailbox Details DashboardMany districts have adopted using Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 to save money over the traditional software version, but they’ve found it hard to manage and administer. Enter Command 365, an online service that can make Office 365 easier to handle. Command 365 works on any connected computer and not only provides good oversight as to which users are doing what but it can make tasks like setting up permissions and creating complex reports a snap. The service costs 5 cents per user per month and there are volume discounts available and there’s a free trial available.

Freebee Friday: Touch Autism

Mzl.aelccmiv.480x480-75Brain Parade’s See.Touch.Learn is a great way for coaxing Autistic kids to come out of their shells and start learning. Picture-based, the free app runs on the iPad and replaces clunky static flash cards with groups of pictures shown on the pad's screen. The latest version provides access to visual libraries and lessons. You can even create your own lesson for special cases. It’s available as a free download from the iTunes App store.

Friday Freebee: Ambassadorial Appointments

Sony ambassadorSony’s K12 Educational Ambassador program has lots of teaching resources, from several apps that can help students with their writing assignments to teaching about physics through building bridges. In fact, if you have good ideas about using technology in the classroom, you can apply to be an ambassador.

Clickers on a Budget

Ping ClickerIf classroom clickers are burning a hole in your budget, eInstruction’s Ping features radio-frequency communication and has a wide range of abilities yet cost $995 for a class pack of 24 with a receiver and software; extra clickers are $55 each. It has a range of 150-feet and can be used with true-false, yes-no and multiple-choice formats. It lacks an LCD screen but confirms that the answer has been received with an LED light. The system works with the company’s Insight 360 scheme.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.